American Psycho

Devil in a Blue Dress by Oscar de la Renta, with gazelle skin handbag by Michael Korrs and Christian Louboutin heels


American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

                I have mixed feelings about this book. If there is such a thing as modern day classic literature, then this is it. This is a book that were it not for the pornography, could be studied in future high school classrooms in the way that I once studied The Great Gatsby. In fact I kept thinking of the Great Gatsby as I read this book. And there were plenty of instances where my mind would roam off into the literary landscapes of memory as Bateman prattled on (and on and on) about what every person was wearing or the possessions they had. The Great Gatsby was a forbidden-love tale within a social commentary on the rich of the roaring twenties just as American Psycho is a morbid horror story within a commentary on the society of the mid-late 1980’s. Yet like those classics I was forced to read in school (not that I can’t appreciate them now, because I can) I found myself dragging through it. I tried the audiobook as well, but often had to rewind because I could not stay focused and frequently I drifted off into other thoughts. There was just so much “clutter”. I think the author dost push his point too much.

Early in this book, I realized that more than its namesake, the story is really about the shallowness of the 1980’s—specifically the “yuppy” types. Now, I realize that Patrick Bateman is an unreliable narrator and perhaps he never blurted out the horrible things he thought and did to his friends and lovers and perhaps they in turn never had the opportunity to learn of his horrible deeds, but I believe he did say the things he tells us. I think Ellis was trying to show the self-centered, shallowness of this particular generation. They never heard what their peers were saying, instead they were only planning what they would say next. And then there were the attacks out in the open: homeless, children, cab drivers, etc. The public didn’t notice, because the public, like the shallow, two-dimensional yuppies of the story, just didn’t care about anyone else. What better time for a serial killer to strike?

In this book, Ellis effortlessly mirror’s society’s sickness with that of a psychopath named Patrick Bateman who is also the narrator of the book. Patrick is obsessed with the clothing people wear, the brand and material it is made from. He is obsessed with having only the best of everything and of course, like any good Wall Street yuppy, he is obsessed with himself. His quirks and odd thought processes are apparent as he narrates his story. Like Rainman, he simply cannot miss his show (in Bateman’s case it is The Patty Winters Show) and he works its topics into the middle of his sentences about restaurants, women, or work. Near the end of the book, the subjects of the show become more and more ridiculous as Bateman’s mind loses its hold on reality. He has methods that scream OCD that help to keep him calm when he wants to lash out and do something he knows might get him caught. He writes chapters on the merits of Phil Collins in Genesis, Whitney Houston, and Huey Lewis and the News between emotionless recitations of sick and disturbing acts of violence.

When Bret Easton Ellis wrote the book, he received a 300,000 dollar advance from Simon and Schuster who subsequently decided not to publish due to moral concerns about the violent content. Women’s groups called for boycotts due to what they felt was misogynistic content. Now, I am feminist in the ranks of Gloria Steinem but I never felt that way. I have never blamed horror novels or heavy metal on the decline of morals and the rise of youth-perpetrated violence. And I can read horror novels depicting women as the victims of horrible crimes without crying foul. It’s fiction and let’s be honest (I really wanted to say Les-be-honest, but I refrained), until recently, women were the main victims in most horror/thrillers. Women are still the victims of popular TV shows like CSI and Law and Order. I don’t like it, but I get it. And rather than cry unfair, I appreciate the art for what it is and I vow to write the book I want to read (as Toni Morrison so wisely suggested) and I can also separate the work of art from the artist himself (or herself). If you want to say something about something and that something you want to talk about is particularly ugly, your work will have to be even uglier in order to get the public to pay attention. So I get it. Preach Ellis, Preach.

Let’s talk about the gore, the brutality of this book. I LOVED IT. I wish there was so much more of it. I know that’s sick and wrong but I am sorry, that’s me. I like it when someone has put thought into their horror. Slasher films lack individuality, lack that subtle difference between engineering and craft. I like the Saw movies for the same reason. Ellis gave Bateman not only a need to kill but a need to do it in such a way that would make the Marquis de Sade turn green. I like to read something that makes me cringe, makes me feel sickened with myself for even continuing. It was these scenes that earned the book it’s title. And although I wanted more to keep me reading, keep me turning the pages in sadistic glee, I realize that more would have tipped the scales toward trash. The fictional equivalent of a snuff film.

It’s hard to explain my feelings for this book. Now that I have completed it, I realize the genius of it. The subtle leanings toward madness nestled between seemingly endless descriptions of upscale clothes and restaurants (I really want to look some of those up because their names were so ridiculous, they couldn’t possibly have existed), the cries for help that went unheard by his peers and the public, and the violent eruptions that occurred between dinner and the gym. It balanced out perfectly. So that even as I sludged through the monotony of description and lists and had to prop my eyes open with toothpicks, I was finding small pieces of gold that ultimately added up to a jackpot. Would I read it again? I doubt it, will I sing its praises? For years to come, yes I will.


7 thoughts on “American Psycho

  1. vanessaessler says:

    I have mixed feelings about the long descriptive parts in this book too. I get what Ellis is doing there; he’s showing us Bateman’s (mirroring society’s) disillusionment and psychosis. She was wearing blah blah blah, we went to such and such restaurant and order this and that. It was supposed to give the audience that feeling of being bored by all the pointless chatter and expose how unglamorous this lifestyle really is. Plus, it made the violent scenes pop out even more. At the same time, I admit I started to skim through these part somewhat. My brain just goes numb after the hundredth description of women’s shoes. On a positive note, I felt way less materialistic after reading this. I don’t care anywhere near what Bateman and his peers did about brands or having the best stereo.


  2. Joe-la, it’s so rare that we agree 100 percent, but I think we do here. There’s an intangible part of Ellis’s story-telling that both attracts and repels his readers. I loved everything about this book and hated a lot. Does that make sense? No, absolutely not. It’s like doing the middle of a puzzle; you hate it while you’re doing it but when you’re done, you know it was necessary. But it’s also like running a marathon. Yeah, I felt fantastic when I was done, but would I do another one? I don’t know if I, as a reader, have the bandwidth to indulge in another Bret Easton Ellis book.


  3. I agree with a lot of what you said about this book, Joe-La. Especially when you quote Toni Morrison’s line about writing the book you want to read.
    It’s interesting that we both included a version of “nobody knows the horror I’ve seen” as a disclaimer for our own (wildly different) opinions of this book. Nevertheless, I don’t believe Ellis poured on the horror to show us how fucked up the Eighties were — that’s what the TV shows “Alf” and “The Dukes of Hazzard” were for — I just think he wrote the “book HE wanted to read”.


  4. I too was a little repulsed by myself for how much I liked this book, especially the graphic depictions. Through the first hundred pages I kept wondering when the killing would begin. Patrick Bateman’s misogyny doesn’t bother me because it is a part of his characterization. It isn’t gratuitous because the story wouldn’t be the same without it. In the ghost RIG we read some stories where the violence against the female characters was unnecessary. The story wouldn’t have changed if it was taken out. In American Psycho, the misogyny is woven into Bateman’s character and the social commentary, making it a part of the story.


  5. It’s really interesting that you compare it to the Great Gatsby. That would never have crossed my mind in a million years. But now it’s got my brain whirring and I can see the similarities of the shallowness and materlialistic tendencies of both soceities despite being set years apart.
    I also noticed the OCD given to Patrick and liked the contrast between his personalities. The compulsive habits seemed to bleed into his murders as well as his everyday life. If the people he was killing (like the women) didn’t react or respond to him the way he wanted, he became displeased. Then there was the contrast of the habits in his everyday life that consisted of his routine and all served the purpose of making him blend in and fit soceity’s standards.


  6. Anonymous says:

    I’m glad that someone found the swaths between murders to be as boring as I did! And the clothes! There were so many specific (and outrageous) names, that it really took me out of the book. I hated it so much. It was like walking across a bed of heated coals to eat a piece of chocolate cake. Over and over and over again.


  7. Tamar says:

    I’m glad that someone found the swaths between murders to be as boring as I did! And the clothes! There were so many specific (and outrageous) names, that it really took me out of the book. I hated it so much. It was like walking across a bed of heated coals to eat a piece of chocolate cake. Over and over and over again.


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